Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fished the Twelve Streams

At left, my Michigan trout fishing bible since coming to the state; Twelve Classic Trout Streams in Michigan by Gerth Hendrickson and Jim DuFrense.

This past weekend I finished fishing these twelve streams by wading the Pigeon and the Sturgeon.

This is a photo heavy post in part because I could find little to help me plan my outing but for the Twelve Streams book. I want to make some of it easier for the rest of you.

This is the Pigeon at the Pigeon River State Forest Campground. There isn't a "flies only" sort of area around here -- at least one enforced. So, spin fishermen with Mepps spinners compete with streamers for aggressive fish. Several guest told me of "keepers" they'd landed.

My largest fish here? 6" brookie. No browns.

Campsite fifteen.

My camp. I went light but was comfortable.

View to the neighbor campsite: pretty obscured. Except for the drunk guy trying to induce coyote howling for a couple hours after dark on Saturday, the campground was quiet despite the many many towed rigs.

There is running water here. The DNR has developed an artesian spring about 20 yards from campsite 15. Very nice facilities.

A road bridge over the Pigeon some miles from the campsite. This spot is "Tin Bridge" and takes a bit to find. You want to approach the stream from the west.

This is Tin Bridge Road from east of the bridge. I suspect a beaver in the lowlands has altered stream flow but that is running water in the roadbed and no, I didn't know if there was a culvert washout down there so I passed even with the heavy off-road gear I drive. An axle in a culvert at dusk is a pain in the ass.

I thought I'd pass on the experience, this time.

Upsteam from Tin Bridge on the Pigeon. Pulled five brookies here. Largest: six inches. No browns.

I saw a lot of this over the weekend. Pigeon River country is wonderful but remote. There's a fair bit of hiking to do. This was a typical trail.

This is a typical Pigeon Forest road. There is a lot of this too and at night, it helps to have a good map. The landmarks are few.

The highlight of the trip was a pack into Green Timbers to fish the Sturgeon as my last of the Twelve Streams.

Green Timbers was originally a private park for the McLouth Steel company employees. In 1982, the State of Michigan took over the area and has largely left it alone.

Green Timbers is a great bit of wild Michigan. The Fontinalis Club -- and no, the club won't let you in -- is the neighboring property. That's the industrialist club founded at the turn of the century whose membership includes Fords (yep, those Fords as in your Ford truck) and others so exclusive you don't get to know they're members. Green Timbers is however public land and shares some of the same water. Go figure.

All you have to do is hike. Figure a little more than five miles round trip.

After two miles but before three, you come to the McLouth bridge. Remember, this was a steel company.

That's a fourteen inch beam. Helluva bridge for no traffic at all. You don't see that sort of thing every day.

The trail to the bridge -- once a road -- is s overgrown that 16" spruce trees in the roadway demand your careful foot placement on the hike in.

Lunch spot. Very nice and very welcome.

From downstream looking up.

A pair of sand traps -- steel, of course -- are in the water above and below the bridge bend. Fish from the banks. I caught .... brookies. The largest ... six inches. No browns.

My "Twelve Streams" tribute shot. Oarsman: the official beer of guys packing in on a warm afternoon to complete the Michigan lower peninsula 12 river sweep.

Wild camping is allowed in Green Timbers and some folks have done a nice job of keeping some areas all policed-up for use. No trash. Trimmed underbrush and grass. Nice.

The Sturgeon is rough. I'd say it is practically unfishable. The cover and blow-down is worse than the Jordan river. The whole thing has a snag-pool-snag type of run to it alternating in ten meter sections. Sure, I'd bet there were some great fish in some of the holes.

I couldn't fight my way to them (no trail, no wade approach).

There is easily 10000 man-hours of heavy work to trim sweepers and cut trail though the public land I saw.

Pigeon Forest country can be tough. Forest trails after logging require something better than a Subaru or Mom's grocery-getting SUV. I fought axle-deep sand and water on several occasions.

I wouldn't have been able to get to several spots without the new super trout car. It's a 4Runner TRD PRO and it needs all of that suspension travel. Seasonal roads can be a bit rough at speed.

There are still publicly accessible waters that don't require such efforts but where the water is easy to reach ....

The Pigeon River is nice and seems to be coming back from the yoga-dam failures of Song-of-the-Morning Ranch ( a yoga retreat that twice decimated the Pigeon ... the dam is now out thanks to litigation, the DNR, Trout Unlimited, and a few other conservation bodies. Thanks, all). I fished cobble and gravel exclusively and saw some great breeding habitat for trout while standing in cold water.

The Sturgeon is a slog. It runs through some awesome country and probably holds some huge trout. You'll earn them, though. It's good hike-and-fish training.

Next year: I complete the Michigan grand-slam: the Fox and the Two Hearted.

I'd say Papa Hemingway would be proud; but, he wouldn't.

There is a price of admission for accomplishment and it is usually paid in sweat through singular effort.

I'll see you in the woods.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Summer Camp

I'm not dead. It's been a big run since June.

I'll cover some in a couple retrospective posts here.

In July, we did have trout camp here in Michigan.

Fish camp involved some preparation. This is the start of a Sunday morning tying session. Those look like hobbit feet at the edge of the desk. Not sure where those came from. The Senator must have been at my desk. ( He didn't make camp. he gets a little abuse for it.)

The boys indulged me for the second year and we did camp. Great fun. My tent at left which has been featured here many times before. I love this little Marmot Tungsten.
 A somewhat more spacious number that Kevin uses. Pretty nice rig. I see smirks about the giant domed rig - but wait.
Damn nice cot. Palatial. Not a great picture of Kevin and in his defense, the lens is doing some funky foreshortening here.  It's the lens.

Solid restorative sleep is important. This rig gives him a solid domicile, storage, and a great bed. I'm jealous. He says it sleeps great. Can't imagine it wouldn't.
 Then, there is Big Bear's tent. Base camp. Nice rig.
 Rusty the Vizsla keeps things secure from those pesky grouse.
 And he guards our contribution to camping and leisure: the generator.

It ran the coffee maker. No. I'm not kidding. We used it to run the coffee maker.

Yes, the coffee was good. Damn fine use of technology.

What, you ask? Coffee on the morning fire? Hmm. Morning fire. Best we just skip the whole narrative of bears in the woods and disputes over fire.

Think of the generator as an engine of harmony. It did its job well.

Brook trout to hand.

Nice brookie. Not the biggest fish of the camp but I was very happy with this fellow. Stalked him in mid-day. Got him on a bushy Jingler tied after a Borcher's Drake pattern.
Fish camp '17 and ... we're eating again. Big Bear kept us fed well. We had great eats.

Great weather. Everyone caught fish. Beautiful summer fishing. Great company.

We missed The Senator but it is election year. He had a close primary which he did win back the beginning of this month. We'll forgive him for absence given the race; but, he was missed.

Now, the bittersweet. Kevin -- the contemplative fellow on the far left -- is leaving us. He's been "called home to corporate" in Seattle and is gone this fall.

He's a considerate fly angler. He's put together several of our fish camp trips. He's a great partner for a day on the water.

He'll be missed.

What this means is that our little local group is going to have to get on airplanes to go and fish destination rivers.  They'll probably be some group outing loss to that reality as expense, obligation, and vocational concerns all will contribute to restrictions in our numbers.

We've have some fun these past years. It's been easy to get out.

I mentioned everyone caught fish this camp. We'll have to just catch our next fish together somewhere else.

Estes and Rocky Mountain National looks like a good middle ground and of course Steve Bird and the Upper Columbia have been calling for a couple years.

We've had a good run. We've had it easy. We've had it cheap. They've been good years.

Thanks, Kevin. We'll see you on the big water.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

That Sinking Feeling

At left, a bastardized version of the Red Ass as a flymph.

TMC103BL in size 15.

Chartreuse Uni thread because I had it in the bobbin holder this morning.

Waxed pheasant hen tails (trout cannot count!).

Red wire - medium - for the abdomen.

Possum (Wapsi Awesome Possum in this case) for the thorax. Loose dubbed and picked a little.

Speckled Hen soft hackle. One and a half turns only.

Nice pronounced Chartreuse head.

I wrote of last weekend's outing that I was inadequately targeting fish on the bottom of the streambed. This fly will be my dropper on a dry-dropper rig. The wire will do for me what I need in the gentle flow I will fish Saturday night.

I'll probably use a medium Michigan caddis of a CDC DHC variety or a Jingler tied with a wrapped bit of foam in the underbody for flotation if I get around to finishing the flies.

I'm going to get my dozen of these Red Ass whipped up first.

I'm after nice browns this weekend and there is no reason the last six hours of light on Saturday will not yield some lovely fish. I'll be on the water until true dark.

Supper ?

Leaning towards smoked polish sausage on a grill gate beside the campfire.

Breakfast on Sunday morning?

Cat head biscuits and spicy sausage gravy. Strong coffee and lots of it.

You'll be sorry to have missed it.

I'm missing a dinner Saturday with some of my favorite trout fishermen; but, there are only so many weekends in June and come November, I'll be wishing I was out on every one of them.

I have to go. The river knows my name and its whisper calls to me more than a lover's coo.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Tungsten 1P

I wanted to say a few words about the Marmot Tungsten 1P tent tonight. I've some pictures of the thing drying out yesterday after I dashed home to meet a social engagement.

It's amazing gear. 

It's a one-man tent that sleeps much larger than that. The vestibule holds a generous allowance of boots, backpack, and utility gear.

It weighs something in the low 3 lbs. with tie-outs, stakes (MSR groundhogs), and the footprint (included in the price).

Above, the front. The tent opens on the right and the vestibule is the part extending as a beak..

Side view. The tent door flap is on the far left of the picture as is the vestibule.

The back. I've staked out the back for full summer ventilation here.

Side view. That's the included footprint drying  beside the tent and a construction trash bag at the far right of the frame which I use to loose pack when wet.

I put the beast up in the Wisconsin Driftless less than a half-hour before a serious blow. The roar was enough that I suspected a tornado coming over the hill.

The tent didn't flinch. This is a tough piece of well-designed gear.

Stormed on me camping beside the South Branch of the Au Sable Saturday night. No worries. I went to sleep with the sounds of decaying thunder and the certain specific dialect of raindrops off pine trees on the fly of my tent.

The tent goes up in three minutes. It holds you, your gear, a journal for your notes, and a decent book from those of someone else. 

It holds all those things dry.

The ventilation is excellent.

Trout camping has opened up water three and four hours north of here on a "no hassle" basis. I like fishing through the evening until true dark and returning to a campsite and a fire I've staged for just a match.

I'll sleep on the ground; but, I use a pad by Klymit ( here )  which turns a campsite into a lush bed. This "dash up, camp a night, and dash back"  is an incredible indulgence.

It helps that I love a good camp breakfast.

One day I'll be confined to the likes of a light trailer for base comfort. For now, I've got it pretty much like Ernie had it though with added benefits from modern materials.

Try some trout camping. The Tungsten line of tents by Marmot are "trout fishing" tough. (I've the 3P model, too).


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Fish Not Pictured

Dward Tract fishing report, Manistee River, MI.

At left, a fine example of my recent fish photography. A lovely brookie was in this paw an instant before the shutter snapped. He's out of frame in this yet not quite in the water.

I went to the Au Sable / Manistee region for a trout dash camping trip this weekend. Gates had this as the sign: a classic.

I caught these. The big one - a lovely nine-to-ten incher - flipped out of my hand in the upper picture. Those I captured on the digital film roll looked more like this little guy. Lovely, though a little bleached. Only the large fish had a lot of heavy shading.

I can't tell if this fellow has nice color or not. Lost on me.

I fished using this nice little 7' 2/1 #4/5 by Chris Lantzy. It's a lovely mortised handled split cane rod here mounted with a Douglas Argus wearing Wulff TT in #4. The rod does fine with the #4 or the #5 Wulff line.

My Hardy Marquis is spooled with the #5 but that reel does not like grit at all. I fished it in the Wisconsin trip and it saw a little of the milkshake water. All cleaned-up now but I think it is about to be shelved for a Red Truck.

Chris' rod is a joy to cast and will roll cast the snot out of the Wulff lines. Perfect for the tight confines seasoning the Deward tract on the Manistee.

Beauty shot of a guide on the mortised rod with the Deward tract Manistee in the background at Stump Forest.

Above is "the hole" I worked on Saturday afternoon. It was a development exercise I set for myself.

I figured three catchable fish lived here in the bend (probably more like fifteen). I was determined to fish for them with dry, soft hackle wet, dry-dropper, weighted flymph under a wool tuft (indicator), and streamer.

You can see the cover, the current, and the dark turn of a hole which is a good six foot deep over there. The water in the foreground was about fourteen inches deep on my shin. I sat, thought, planned, and observed.

I slowed down and contrived to catch three fish.

Flies used.

I studied the hatch. It was largely mosquito as shown here for size.

Pictured is an old old ginger-caddis leftover from before I started tying cdc-DHC exclusively. Not a bad tie, though.

Maybe a little head heavy. Size 16 here.

My hook left less sting than this smashed fellow. He was not a practitioner of the barbless philosophy.

Girding my loins using the default Michigan mosquito repellent: heavy sleeves.

And "no joy."  I fished from a low angle slightly off and upstream so as to use the current to help me with the submerged obstructions.

I stayed low so as not to soil the hole. I got into position and sat for 20 minutes waiting for my bank-side footsteps to fade from memory.

No joy. Odd.

Otter? Osprey? Brown trout in the hole?

I failed the exam. There is something here I did not know or did not execute correctly.


I took nine fish off this stream. Five I took wading downstream returning to my put-in. I "jigged" my soft-hackle in the drift downstream 50' in front of me (full line head + leader) loosing one and hooking five.

What? Why?

My upstream soft-hackle efforts full of concentration and stealth yielded worse results than "playing" a brown partridge-and-orange downstream in the main current drift. No hatch. No spinner fall. Partly cloudy day with a 10 - 12 mph irregularly gusting wind. I had waded up the stream long enough before to consider it fully rested.

Was I "chumming" the stream with my steps? I didn't think so but the results might say otherwise.

My delicate and dedicated fishing of "the hole"  pulled nothing. The fish I did catch from upstream presentations came from places unremarkable (not a visible seam off a sweeper or on/around a obstruction).

I  fished "water" and not fish. I used the "9 box" method of dividing the stream into three ranks (rows) and three files (columns) upstream but within my reach. I fished closest to me across the rank, then the next rank upstream. Then the next. Three or four steps and I repeated.

I have this nasty nagging feeling I'm too high in the water column for fish feeding close to the bottom while lying in the micro draws and troughs of the streambed.

I suspect. I suspect. I postulate. I guess.

I think I am fishing shallow. I will amend the effort next weekend on that trout dash upstate.

Beauty Shot of gear:

I love my Finn Utility side bag. It isn't perfect; but, neither am I.

It's lovely gear. It needs a little Lexol in this snap.

Spike Burger and waffle fries. Fished shallow or deep, these hook me every time. Forbidden food.

"Not for Bears."

The evening fire as I read and smoked the last of some Briar Fox from Cornell and Diehl. Sad to say, it hasn't become a favorite blend.

Next up is Sextant by G. L. Pease. Yes, it is slightly cased by rum -- as if that matters a damn bit.

I've nothing bad to say about a little rum casing in the tobacco from time to time.

Rum is a fine substitute for Irish Whiskey or a decent scotch  in a glass when you're pressed to it.

One must remain flexible, after all.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Driftless Wisconsin, After Action

First, I caught fish. In five days, I brought 26 to hand.

It rained four-and-a-half inches the week I was fishing. It showed. Conditions for me were hard.

My fish were all cookie-cutter 8" to 12" aggressive little beasts which tells me I was a split shot or two away from some of the nicer fish I saw landed.

I had fun. I'll go again in a heartbeat.

It was cold. One morning was thirty-four and wet. That's tough for mid-May around here. It isn't unexpected. Coffee was a morning treat and I tried to make sure my companions had some hot brew waiting as soon as they roused.

We had morning warming fires, too.

 My tent on the left. Dirk's in the background center.

Both tents lived through a sixty mile-an-hour squall a half-hour after being put up. Dirk's snapped a fiberglass pole that was easily repaired. I have to say the Cabela's outfitter's model he had was a lot tougher than I thought. Dry, too. Nothing duct tape and a splint couldn't fix.

Above, the campground at the West Fork Sportsmans' Club.

We saw plenty of this: chocolate milk.

Bohemian Valley here. I've a hundred pictures just like this of seventeen other streams. Heartbreakers, really.

Nice public lands down on Tainter Creek.

Dirk fishing the cliff face on the stream from above. He's a commercial fisherman and a fly shop owner. He did well. Here he is preparing to pull a nice fish out of the hole.

I learned just watching him fish. I learned watching him not fish, too.

Another perspective. We fished the rain (fourteen hours of it) on Saturday. I came back and fished another six hours on Sunday and pulled eight fish from here.

One of my choices in the mud. The next cast pulled a fish out on it.

A better image of the hillside from Sunday. The water had cleared considerably. That pool is eighty yards long, twenty-five wide, and barely moves.

After facing mud, I was willing to try and fish my most difficult environment: the long slow pool.

I worked on technique, rested the pool, worked again. I had success.

We did a lot of scouting. Regrettably, this is the only shot I have of Dr. Don that wasn't of his back. I have several of his back bending down to unhook a fish.

He's leading a scouting party here.

Obligatory cow shot. Coulee is at the left just out of frame.

I fished the Driftless in perhaps its worst state short of flood. I still caught fish. I had fun.

I lived five days in a one-man tent and saw it shrug off a tremendous spring blow.

I wore wool and Capilene every day.  Half our party bailed halfway through the outing due to weather.

I'd go back tomorrow.